The best way, says the Friends of the River Uncompahgre, is to establish a minimum uniform buffer zone of 100 ft. spanning the entire length of the river, in order to stabilize the riparian areas, keeping growth and its related impacts a safe distance away.
According to Hank Hotze, FORU member and host at a forum in Montrose at the Delta Montrose Electric Association conference room last Friday evening, a buffer zone will also enable re-vegetation to take place. The group hopes to encourage the cleanup and even relocation of encroaching commercial and industrial sites, including the Recla Metal facility. This objective can be best met, according to Hotze, when government officials take the lead during their current round of master planning while unprecedented residential and commercial development continues its expansion in the region, in many cases, on the river banks.
Over 60 members of the public attended the forum, which included talks from Valley Water Users Association and Colorado River Water Conservation District representatives about the history of the Uncompahgre’s use, and the projected demands for water in the valley, which are expected to increase sharply in the future.
Speaking for the 100-member plus coalition that is now in its second year, Hotze, said that the buffer acts to purify returning surface and subsurface waters from “non-point source pollution which is needed “throughout the county.” It is “a natural system that can restore itself,” he says.
FORU was formed in the wake of the groundbreaking and construction of the 57-acre River Landing commercial shopping center on the west river bank of the Uncompahgre at the south end of the city. Hotze said that FORU is asking Montrose County take action and give their staff the “tools to protect the corridor” including, as one of those tools, the proposed 100 ft. corridor. In furtherance of that objective, he would like to see an intergovernmental agreement between the city and the county to unify bureaucratic oversight.
The group has a five-year plan, which includes a whitewater course on the Uncompahgre. In some areas, rusted metal, trash and other debris sits seen just yards from the river, which if nothing more, is unsightly. At one point, Hotze noted that “several” boaters were killed on the side of the river where the current is directed toward a hodgepodge of discarded metal and tangled trees, trapping some who could not navigate away.
According to Elizabeth Roscoe, co-founder of FORU, the riparian area, in its natural state, acts like a soft sponge that enables leeching and filtering out of contaminants such as nitrogen and copper, and reduces chloroform counts. When the ground is compacted by development like parking lots, roads and buildings, the riparian filtering process is compromised.
FORU’s initiative has the ringing endorsement of Steve White, director of the Montrose County Land Use Department, who articulated the challenges ahead. According to White, the county is experiencing less development pressure than the city. But, he said, “We are becoming urban; the rural part is leaving. You can’t close your eyes and say it isn’t happening.
“We see growth in the valley because of the water,” he continued. “The valley’s concerned about all aspects including irrigation, drinking and recreation. The BOCC wants to see a master plan going forward and wants a corridor addition in the Master Plan.”
Hotze would like to see that planning completed before any building permits are issued. With the memory of the River Landing approval process still fresh, an orderly process, for the sake of the riparian habitat, would be for the Army Corps of Engineers to step in and review the application under its Section 404 and provide a notice of a public hearing before clearing any project. Once that is done, a building permit could be reviewed and issued by the city or county following the Corps recommendation, not the other way around.
According to Montrose Park Planner/Project Manager Dennis Erickson, who also spoke that evening, a riparian buffer zone contributes to the economic well-being of the city. He showed maps and images of the river within the city limits, which reveal city-owned parklands along the river and three river bank locations that are now under negotiation for acquisition by the city. Erickson said the effort began in the 1970s with River Bottom Park.
“We are partnering with FORU,” he said. “The city is concurrently working toward the goal of acquiring more property. Wildlife viewing is more important economically than hunting and fishing,” he said.
The organization is actively pursuing grants, and has received one from the Colorado Conservation Board, according to Hotze. “We need memberships and volunteers,” he said. The group is having monthly meetings at the E. Main office of Alpine Bank. The next one is tonight, at 7 p.m. For more information contact FORU at www.foruncompahgre.org or at 970/249-4441.